Drafting the Troika – Flames and Three First Rounders



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Since 1995 only eight teams have had three or more 1st round picks in single year. I decided to take a look at those teams, the players chosen, the draft year in question, and then find the most appropriate historical fit for the Flames current situation.

By chronological order, those teams are the Avalanche in 1998 with 4 picks, the Islanders in 1999 with another 4, then the Capitals in 2002 with three, L.A. in 2003 with three, the Caps again in 2004 with three, the Oilers and Blues both in 2007 with three each, then the Panthers in 2010 with three and finally the Senators in 2011 with three.

Here is a breakdown of those teams and their picks:

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The closest historical match to the Flames current situation is perhaps the Panthers in 2010 or the Capitals in 2004, where the teams drafted in the top three and then had two "depth picks" around the bottom ten. That being said, based on some recent reports on this draft class (something about which I will elaborate on later) it is difficult to believe that the Flames can realistically expect to find three bona fide NHL players with all three 1st round picks.

The history of teams picking more than twice in the 1st round suggests that the best case scenario is that the team finds a top six player with their first pick and then uncovers a potential bottom six forward and 2nd pairing defenseman with the latter two.


Pulling the Hat Trick is Hard

The best result from any of these teams was probably the 1998 Colorado Avalanche who managed to essentially "hit" on all four picks. The worst is perhaps the Islanders in 1999 who found a top six player in Connolly, then selected an eventual 4th line player in Pyatt 8th overall and essentially blew the final two picks. It should be noted, however, that 1999 was a relatively poor draft year with only 15% of selected prospects eventually becoming NHL players – the league average between 1995 and 2006 was 18.5%.

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Even in the fabled 2003 draft, where the Kings had three picks at 13, 26 and 27, they found only one high-end NHL player in Dustin Brown. Of the remaining two, one is a decent defenseman while the other is plying his trade overseas in Zurich of the Swiss League.

The evidence would suggest that having a significant number of picks in any given round is not a guarantee of success, but that it is important to hit on the ones you have, rather than approach the draft board with a sense of luxury or recklessness brought on by a surplus of selections.


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Hitting the Draft Table with Aces in the Sleeve

Teams have in the past seemed to believe that getting a number of 1st round selections will allow them to garner a windfall of talent that will shortcut a long rebuilding process. Historically this has proven to be a false belief. Rebuilds take time, patience and development. A team that feels they can do an end-run around the process through the draft probably doesn’t have the wherewithal or infrastructure to do it well. Only one team has managed to draft well enough in this situation such that they were able to find success through it (the Avalanche) and it had as much to do with their existing roster talent at the time and the ability to bring along an influx of new talent in a supporting role. They also got incredibly lucky at the draft.

Of the teams listed, L.A. is the only other team to have won a Cup in recent years, and that roster had only one player from that draft windfall still on it in Brown.

Don’t misunderstand this article to mean that I believe that multiple picks in any given round is a bad strategy. It isn’t. But draft boards need to be run in such a way that every pick needs to be the concensus best projectible player available. Too often when teams have multiple picks in a round you can see the scouts or GMs making selections almost as though they were inviting failure, be it through reach or off-the-board picks. After picking a potential star, teams might start "picking for need" instead of looking for viable assets.

If the Flames take the best player they feel is available with their first pick, then wait and cross off the names of others selected to take the next best player still available with their second and third picks, each time reassessing the players available, and stay away from the temptation of drafting according to present need, then they may find some good players.

The danger lies in that Feaster and the Flames management seem intent on taking these three picks and using them to forestall any pending rebuild. The language and messages coming from the organization are that they will accept this one year, maximize their time at the draft (be it by selection or to trade) and expect to return to the NHL’s inner circle the following season.

We will have to wait and see if this approach bears fruit.

  • RexLibris

    I can see moving picks if it stays within the top 4, but anything else I think is a mistake. The Flames absolutely, positively MUST nail that pick. Otherwise, if you move it and it doesn’t work, people will be looking back on it 30 years from now, “remember when the Flames traded a top 3 pick…”

    Just as an off-the-cuff example (I know these are from different draft years), but imagine passing on Taylor Hall and getting Sam Gagner? Now, I think Gagner is a great player, have defended him numerous times and just shake my head at Oilers fans who wanted him moved. But he’s a #2 C. On the first line he’d get his head kicked in and, let’s face it, he’s no Hall. Or, as another example, picking a Backlund (who I also love) over a Huberdeau?

    The Flames just can’t take that chance. What if Kent is right and they do turn it around? Iginla was worthless, so all the Flames really lost was JBo. So imagine the Flames are successful at grabbing some players (either UFA or due to cap restrictions) and end up in 9th again. What a disaster.

    In other words, the team may never pick this high again (or at least for a long time), in a draft this deep.

    They need to keep their own pick and make it count. Even trading within the top 4 gives me a cold shiver. THEY HAVE TO GET THIS RIGHT.

  • RexLibris

    @ cLyde

    I totally see where you are coming from. If there is any team in the leaague that would make the kind of move you are suggesting, it would probably be Philly. I do see a big shake-up by them. If an A-grade young player becomes available, make something happen. Remember the old hunting slogan that ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’.

    This team, despite all that ails it, IS about to enter an off-season with a lot of flexibility. The three picks (assuming St. Lou….), the cap space, etc if managed properly could reap some impressive results. The ‘managed properly’ part is obviously a concern, but….

  • RexLibris

    Regarding our own pick, there is no question that it is off-limits. Period. I assume it will be a top-four choice, and there appears to be at least 4 franchise players available. The only discussion I want our ‘Hockey Operations Department’ to be discussing regarding the top pick, is how to get another one and have two. I realize that may not be possible, but don’t even think about getting rid of the one we have.

  • BobB

    All I know is please for the love of hockey, do not draft a goalie with one of those picks.

    The priority should always be (at its most basic and assuming they are equally skilled)

    1. Strong center
    2. Right handed defenceman
    3. Scoring/creative left winger.

      • BobB

        Yes, this wasn’t specific to the Flames… more as general drafting priorities. Teams that put goalies, or right wingers ahead of this order (unless there team is stacked in those other three ways) are seriously missing the boat.

        And even then, I think I’d still take in that order unless you’re 90-100% certain of your prospects.

        You can never have too many strong centers, or high quality right handed d-men even if it’s just to stock the assets cupboard.

  • RexLibris

    To be honest I would not be disappointed with any of the 4 top players. But I would prefer a Center only because I’ve never seen an elite center in a flames jersey before

    • Michael

      Likely being older, I remember Joe Nieuwnedyk’s back to back 51 goals, followed by two seasons with 45 goals. It was a different age, but Nieuw
      was a true powerhouse in his day.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I had this terrible dream and in it Feaster and Wisebroad were talking about post apex hockey and did the following:

    1. With our first pick in the entry draft we are going to take some college guy 2 rounds hire than he should be taken, so we can pretend we are the smartest cookie in the jar.

    2. With our second pick in the first round, we are going to trade down and take another player from the Quebec high school league who is also planning on taking the college route.

    3. With our 3rd pick we going to take a goalie, but not Fucale, from Europe and call him THE BEST PROSPECT in the draft. Yes even better than the big 4.


    • SmellOfVictory

      Feaster’s trades have been somewhat disconcerting from a “we feel like we’re smarter than everyone else” perspective. Asking for Hanowski & Agostino as well as those two clowns from the Blues reeks of delusions of intellectual grandeur; however, from a drafting perspective he’s been pretty on point when one compares his choices to various prospect rankings. Jankowski was the only real “reach”, and that was only by a couple of spots, and entirely justifiable given the other talent available at that spot in the 2012 draft.

      The Flames passed over Teravainen, Ceci, and Maatta as the “big names” they could’ve had. That’s a small player who lacks strength and projects to be a mid-grade top 6 winger in the NHL at best, and a pair of defencemen who were both considered to have mid-level 2nd pairing potential. Ceci and Maatta would have been safer picks than Jankowski, but Teravainen would not. And the only thing going against Jankowski was that he was such an unknown; outside of that, he has the highest potential ceiling, and the most projectable frame/raw skillset of all four of those players.

      • SmellOfVictory

        I think you’re underrating TT. Besides, strength is the one thing anyone can improve on. And Maatta could well develop into a #2 D. And there’s certainly no guarantee on a guy with a 5 year projected development curve.

        • SmellOfVictory

          I’m saying that TT and Jankowski aren’t that dissimilar in terms of their boom/bust potential, but they have different things potentially holding them back. And I doubt either of the dmen ever makes it to a top pairing except out of necessity.

  • loudogYYC

    I want Feaster to draft 2 centres with his first 2 picks. I don’t care if Drouin doubles as Superman in his spare time, he’s a LW and the most important position in hockey is Centre.

    With MacKinnon, Barkov, Nichushkin, Lindholm, Monahan, Shinkaruk, Gauthier, Lazar, Horvat, etc looking like top 20 Centres, I’d even be ok with Feaster acquiring another 1st rounder somehow.

  • RKD

    I could be wrong but something tells me this time around Flames brass won’t go off the board and take a h.s. kid. I think they pick one of Jones, Drouin or MacKinnon. I would take MacKinnon, we need a #1 center. I feel like Feaster and Weisbrod have put all their eggs in one basket by being too heavy in U.S. college players. They need to take guys from the OHL and the QMJHL. Three picks is nice to have but if you screw it up by taking guys like Fata and Tkachuk you set yourself up for years of failure. The good thing is that a lot of players these days are a lot more NHL ready. I would take one high end player any day of the week than some middle of the road guys or non NHL regulars.

  • RKD

    I was joking around with my dream. Just tired of hearing Wisebroad and Feaster say that so and so is the best this best that. Yes I know they are Americans and love to be brash, but eventually something they say has to be backed up no? Jankowski is a super reach, and I still believe they could have taken him in the 2nd round, but then again we not have got Seiloff.

    I also understand you can’t rip your guys, but maybe they should be tad more realistic with their bar. I hope Jankowski is the best player from this draft, but did they really have to say that 5mins after the fact?

    The draft is such a crap shoot after the top 5, so I guess time will tell if that move pans out.

    We REALLY need a center, but I can also see them taking Seth Jones. I keep hearing mixed things about Nate, but I guess let’s wait until we see where our pick is then decide who is the best option. I’ll lose it if the crappy Oilers somehow win it again, even if they finish 11th.

  • Purple Hazze

    If we want Coutrier from Philly, Feaster and Co should be looking at taking Bryzgolof off their hands in the trade. All signs point to philly wanting to buy him out this summer which would cost them $35million! If we can save them the money of having to buy him out, the asking price on Coutrier should come down, and we do have all that magical cap space to make it happen.

    A possible trade could be Coutrier/Bryz for Gio and one of our later 1st rounders. Is that enough to get it done??

    • loudogYYC

      I don’t see the benefit of trading for their 7 year headache of a goalie who turns 33 this summer and has a higher cap hit than Kipper.

      I’m all for taking advantage of the cap space opportunity the Flames have this summer, but players like Luongo, Lecavalier, DiPietro and Bryzgalov have no value until after they’re bought out.

      Timmonen on the other hand, has an expensive cap hit at $6M for one more season. This is the kind of trade Feaster should be looking at making since Briere already said today that he expects to be bought out in the off-season.

      Timmonen + Philly’s 1st for Pittsburgh’s 1st is a deal I’d be all over. I have no idea if it would work, but it would be smart. Timmonen could become a playoff rental at the next deadline too.

  • loudogYYC

    Someone always bucks the trend of what has happened in the past. I hope you guys score some great prospects with your picks. We got klefbom at 19 and eberle at 22. So you never know what’s going to happen. I hope as your neighbor to the north that you guys draft 3 stars and set the bar for having 3 first round picks. Just remember to take best player available don’t draft for need or you’ll end up with an alex plante LOL